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Forum Post: The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement for Protectionists

Posted 12 months ago on Oct. 28, 2013, 2:58 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5878)
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The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement for Protectionists

Monday, 28 October 2013 09:45 By Dean Baker, Truthout | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/19663-the-trans-pacific-partnership-a-trade-agreement-for-protectionists

At this point, with few exceptions formal trade barriers, such as tariffs and quotas, are not very large. If lowering or eliminating the formal barriers that remain were the main agenda of this pact, there would be relatively little interest. Rather, the purpose of the pact is to use an international trade agreement to create a regulatory structure that is much more favorable to corporate interests than they would be able to get through the domestic political process in the United States and in the other countries in the pact.

The gap between free trade and the agenda of the TPP is clearest in the case of prescription drugs. The U.S. drug companies have a major seat at the negotiating table. They will be trying to craft rules that increase the strength of patent and related protections. The explicit purpose is to raise (as in not lower) the price of drugs in the countries signing the TPP.

Note that this goal is the opposite of what we would expect in an agreement designed to promote free trade. Instead of having drug companies at the table, we might envision that we would have representatives of consumer groups who would try to negotiate rules that could ensure safe drugs at lower prices. Instead of using a “trade” agreement to try to push drug prices in other countries up, we could actually use trade to bring the price of drugs in the United States down to the levels seen elsewhere.

Insofar as this creates problems for the model of government granted patent monopolies as the main tool for financing research, we could even look to promote methods of research financing that don’t have their origins in the medieval guild system, like patents. Everyone, including the drug companies, seems to think that the $30 billion we spend on research each year through the National Institutes of Health is extremely valuable. This suggests that there are other ways to finance research.

We could also look to have freer trade in doctors. The doctors’ lobbies have erected numerous barriers to keep qualified foreign physicians from practicing in the United States. There are enormous potential gains from eliminating these barriers. If we got the pay of doctors in the United States in line with doctors’ pay in other wealthy countries, the savings would be close to $1 trillion over the next decade. That comes to around $7,000 per household.

It is striking that we openly make deals to bring in foreign nurses to lower the pay of nurses in the United States, but can never even discuss doing the same with doctors. The potential benefits to the United States from importing doctors are certainly much larger than for importing nurses.

In fact the potential gains from bringing in foreign physicians are so large that we could tax a portion of the earnings of foreign doctors to repay their home countries, and allow them to educate 2-3 doctors for every one that comes to the United States. This would ensure that everyone benefits from freer trade in physicians’ services. The lack of interest in this sort of free trade likely has something to do with the fact that doctors make up a large chunk of the richest one percent.

There are many other areas where we could envision freer trade bringing real gains to the bulk of the population. However this is not what the TPP is about. The TPP is about crafting rules that will favor big business at the expense of the rest of the population in both the United States and in other countries.

For example, we can expect to see limits on the ability of national and sub-national governments to impose environmental restrictions, such requirements that companies engaging in fracking disclose the list of chemicals they use. There may also be limits on the extent to which governments can restrict the sale of genetically modified foods, with rules on labeling. And, the TPP may prevent governments from imposing restraints on financial firms that would prevent the sort of abuses that we saw during the run-up of the housing bubble.

The world has benefited from the opening of trade over the last four decades. But this opening has been selective so that, at least in the United States, most of the gains have gone to those at the top. It is possible to design trade deals that benefit the population as a whole, but not when corporate interests are literally the negotiators at the table. Rather than being about advancing free trade, the TPP is the answer to the question: “how can we make the rich richer?

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

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[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5878) 12 months ago

Our Invisible Revolution

Monday, 28 October 2013 09:22 By Chris Hedges, TruthDig | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/19658-our-invisible-revolution

“Did you ever ask yourself how it happens that government and capitalism continue to exist in spite of all the evil and trouble they are causing in the world?” the anarchist Alexander Berkman wrote in his essay “The Idea Is the Thing.” “If you did, then your answer must have been that it is because the people support those institutions, and that they support them because they believe in them.”

Berkman was right. As long as most citizens believe in the ideas that justify global capitalism, the private and state institutions that serve our corporate masters are unassailable. When these ideas are shattered, the institutions that buttress the ruling class deflate and collapse. The battle of ideas is percolating below the surface. It is a battle the corporate state is steadily losing. An increasing number of Americans are getting it. They know that we have been stripped of political power. They recognize that we have been shorn of our most basic and cherished civil liberties, and live under the gaze of the most intrusive security and surveillance apparatus in human history. Half the country lives in poverty. Many of the rest of us, if the corporate state is not overthrown, will join them. These truths are no longer hidden.

It appears that political ferment is dormant in the United States. This is incorrect. The ideas that sustain the corporate state are swiftly losing their efficacy across the political spectrum. The ideas that are rising to take their place, however, are inchoate. The right has retreated into Christian fascism and a celebration of the gun culture. The left, knocked off balance by decades of fierce state repression in the name of anti-communism, is struggling to rebuild and define itself. Popular revulsion for the ruling elite, however, is nearly universal. It is a question of which ideas will capture the public’s imagination.

Revolution usually erupts over events that would, in normal circumstances, be considered meaningless or minor acts of injustice by the state. But once the tinder of revolt has piled up, as it has in the United States, an insignificant spark easily ignites popular rebellion. No person or movement can ignite this tinder. No one knows where or when the eruption will take place. No one knows the form it will take. But it is certain now that a popular revolt is coming. The refusal by the corporate state to address even the minimal grievances of the citizenry, along with the abject failure to remedy the mounting state repression, the chronic unemployment and underemployment, the massive debt peonage that is crippling more than half of Americans, and the loss of hope and widespread despair, means that blowback is inevitable.

“Because revolution is evolution at its boiling point you cannot ‘make’ a real revolution any more than you can hasten the boiling of a tea kettle,” Berkman wrote. “It is the fire underneath that makes it boil: how quickly it will come to the boiling point will depend on how strong the fire is.”

Revolutions, when they erupt, appear to the elites and the establishment to be sudden and unexpected. This is because the real work of revolutionary ferment and consciousness is unseen by the mainstream society, noticed only after it has largely been completed. Throughout history, those who have sought radical change have always had to first discredit the ideas used to prop up ruling elites and construct alternative ideas for society, ideas often embodied in a utopian revolutionary myth. The articulation of a viable socialism as an alternative to corporate tyranny—as attempted by the book “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA” and the website Popular Resistance—is, for me, paramount. Once ideas shift for a large portion of a population, once the vision of a new society grips the popular imagination, the old regime is finished.

An uprising that is devoid of ideas and vision is never a threat to ruling elites. Social upheaval without clear definition and direction, without ideas behind it, descends into nihilism, random violence and chaos. It consumes itself. This, at its core, is why I disagree with some elements of the Black Bloc anarchists. I believe in strategy. And so did many anarchists, including Berkman, Emma Goldman, Pyotr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin.

By the time ruling elites are openly defied, there has already been a nearly total loss of faith in the ideas—in our case free market capitalism and globalization—that sustain the structures of the ruling elites. And once enough people get it, a process that can take years, “the slow, quiet, and peaceful social evolution becomes quick, militant, and violent,” as Berkman wrote. “Evolution becomes revolution.”

This is where we are headed. I do not say this because I am a supporter of revolution. I am not. I prefer the piecemeal and incremental reforms of a functioning democracy. I prefer a system in which our social institutions permit the citizenry to nonviolently dismiss those in authority. I prefer a system in which institutions are independent and not captive to corporate power. But we do not live in such a system. Revolt is the only option left. Ruling elites, once the ideas that justify their existence are dead, resort to force. It is their final clutch at power. If a nonviolent popular movement is able to ideologically disarm the bureaucrats, civil servants and police—to get them, in essence, to defect—nonviolent revolution is possible. But if the state can organize effective and prolonged violence against dissent, it spawns reactive revolutionary violence, or what the state calls terrorism. Violent revolutions usually give rise to revolutionaries as ruthless as their adversaries. “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote. “And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Violent revolutions are always tragic. I, and many other activists, seek to keep our uprising nonviolent. We seek to spare the country the savagery of domestic violence by both the state and its opponents. There is no guarantee that we will succeed, especially with the corporate state controlling a vast internal security apparatus and militarized police forces. But we must try.

Corporations, freed from all laws, government regulations and internal constraints, are stealing as much as they can, as fast as they can, on the way down. The managers of corporations no longer care about the effects of their pillage. Many expect the systems they are looting to fall apart. They are blinded by personal greed and hubris. They believe their obscene wealth can buy them security and protection. They should have spent a little less time studying management in business school and a little more time studying human nature and human history. They are digging their own graves.

Our shift to corporate totalitarianism, like the shift to all forms of totalitarianism, is incremental. Totalitarian systems ebb and flow, sometimes taking one step back before taking two steps forward, as they erode democratic liberalism. This process is now complete. The “consent of the governed” is a cruel joke. Barack Obama cannot defy corporate power any more than George W. Bush or Bill Clinton could. Unlike his two immediate predecessors, Bush, who is intellectually and probably emotionally impaired, did not understand the totalitarian process abetted by the presidency. Because Clinton and Obama, and their Democratic Party, understand the destructive roles they played and are playing, they must be seen as far more cynical and far more complicit in the ruination of the country. Democratic politicians speak in the familiar “I-feel-your-pain” language of the liberal class while allowing corporations to strip us of personal wealth and power. They are effective masks for corporate power.

The corporate state seeks to maintain the fiction of our personal agency in the political and economic process. As long as we believe we are participants, a lie sustained through massive propaganda campaigns, endless and absurd election cycles and the pageantry of empty political theater, our corporate oligarchs rest easy in their private jets, boardrooms, penthouses and mansions. As the bankruptcy of corporate capitalism and globalization is exposed, the ruling elite are increasingly nervous. They know that if the ideas that justify their power die, they are finished. This is why voices of dissent—as well as spontaneous uprisings such as the Occupy movement—are ruthlessly crushed by the corporate state.

“... [M]any ideas, once held to be true, have come to be regarded as wrong and evil,” Berkman wrote in his essay. “Thus the ideas of the divine right of kings, of slavery and serfdom. There was a time when the whole world believed those institutions to be right, just, and unchangeable. In the measure that those superstitions and false beliefs were fought by advanced thinkers, they became discredited and lost their hold upon the people, and finally the institutions that incorporated those ideas were abolished. Highbrows will tell you that they had ‘outlived’ their ‘usefulness’ and therefore they ‘died.’ But how did they ‘outlive’ their ‘usefulness’? To whom were they useful, and how did they ‘die’? We know already that they were useful only to the master class, and they were done away with by popular uprisings and revolutions.”

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 12 months ago

surveillance through our own camera's will protect us from oppression

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5878) 11 months ago

America Was Once a Superpower - Now It's Not

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 14:34 By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/19713-america-was-once-a-superpower-now-its-not

George Washington would be rolling over in his grave if he knew what President Obama was up to.

Right now, the president is preparing push through what has the potential to be the largest trade deal in human history: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or as it's more commonly known as, the "TPP." If approved, the TPP would create a whole new set of rules regulating the economies of twelve countries in four different continents bordering the Pacific Ocean. These rules cover everything from pharmaceuticals to digital copyright law and could permanently change the way every day Americans and people all over the world interact with the global economy.

So, you'd think Obama administration would want to keep the public as up-to-date as possible on such a big trade deal, right? Wrong.

The United States has negotiated the TPP almost entirely in secret and most of what we know about it actually comes from leaked documents.

And those documents paint a pretty scary picture. According to Public Citizen's Trade Watch, TPP would allow private foreign corporations to sue countries that try to pass regulations they don't like, reward companies that send jobs overseas, and gut regulations that keep big banks in check.

That's why the TPP is way more dangerous than normal trade deals like NAFTA. As Dean Baker wrote in a recent piece for the Huffington Post, "[Free trade] is not what the TPP is about. The TPP is about crafting rules that will favor big business at the expense of the rest of the population in both the United States and in other countries."

So why is the TPP so friendly to big corporations? Easy – they wrote it.

While the Bush and Obama administrations have kept the public in the dark about what's in the TPP, they have let big corporations to look at draft versions of the treaty and even let those corporations make changes to them.

It shouldn't be any surprise, then, that President Obama doesn't even want Congress to look at the TPP.

To push the U.S. the onto the proposed treaty as soon as possible, he's proposing a special legislative trick called "fast-tracking" that would prevent lawmakers from making any amendments to the TPP. Instead, the treaty would be sent right to the floor where it would only have to pass a simple majority vote.

Given what we know about the TPP and what we know about how the President wants to push it through Congress without debate or amendment, the stakes couldn't be higher.

For over 200 years, since the founding of the Republic, our economy was built on a system of tariffs, which are small taxes on importing goods. These tariffs made American goods cheaper in the United States, thus protecting American manufacturing, and made our country a global superpower.

American businesses and American workers didn't have to compete with cheap products or cheap labor from abroad, and so the economy flourished.

Everything worked fine until the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan abandoned the system of tariffs that had worked so well for centuries and ushered in the era of so-called "free-trade."

Every President since, including Democrats like Bill Clinton and Republicans like George W. Bush, has followed Reagan's lead, signing us on to free-trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA. These deals were supposed to grow the economy, but instead they decimated its industrial base, its most productive source of wealth. As a result, the United States is now what Economy in Crisis has called a "service (or servant) economy." In most parts of the country factory jobs have been replaced by non-union service-sector jobs. There's nothing wrong with working at some place like McDonald's or Walmart, but the fact of the matter is that Walmart jobs don't pay nearly as well as a good union factory job does. As Adam Smith pointed out in his 1776 book The Wealth of Nations, the only way to create real wealth is to make things. Economies are built from the ground up and when an economy doesn't have a strong base of well-paying manufacturing jobs, it doesn't produce enough wealth to stay healthy.

Thirty years of tariff-busting and so-called free-trade have already changed our country's economy for the worse. If President Obama gets his way and pushes the TPP through Congress, it could put the middle-class on death watch.

There's still a lot we don't know about the TPP, but what we do know– the giveaways to Big Pharma and the bankster class, the privileges for job-killing outsourcers, and the courts that let corporations fight regulations – would put the final nail in the coffin of the economic system our Founders created.

The TPP would complete the transformation of our economy from one that produces wealth to one that bleeds wealth. The only people who would benefit from it would be the same class of people who have benefited from every trade teal and anti-tariff bill since the Reagan administration: the banksters, corporate lawyers, and CEOs who have spent the past three decades fleecing the American people.

In a perfect world, President Obama would reject the TPP outright. But we're not in a perfect world, so at the very least he should let the American people – and our Congress – see what's in the treaty.

This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5878) 12 months ago

Pension Theft Crime Wave

Monday, 28 October 2013 14:08 By Mark Brenner, LaborNotes | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/19672-pension-theft-crime-wave

The nation’s union-haters have a juicy new target, Detroit’s public employees, ever since the city became the largest in history to file for bankruptcy. Detroit unions will wrangle with a bankruptcy judge this fall over how to handle $3.5 billion in pension obligations for 12,000 retirees.

City retirees receive a princely sum of $19,213 per year on average. Pension obligations to these workers account for less than 20 percent of Detroit’s debt. But the facts haven’t kept retirees from bearing the brunt of the bankruptcy fallout.

In fact, politicians across the country are seizing on Detroit’s hard times as an excuse to trim public pensions closer to home. For them—and for bankers angling for a piece of the action—this could be the breakthrough they’ve been waiting for.

Lawmakers from both parties have climbed onto the same noisy bandwagon as right-wingers who complain that public pensions are too fat, ballooning out of control because of unions run amok. They throw in the fact that retirees are living longer, and tout the soon-to-be swollen ranks of retiring baby boomers, to add some statistical cover to their judgments and finger-pointing.

Manufactured Crisis

But the fact is that the crisis in funding for pensions, both private and public, is a manufactured one. It’s rooted in the Enron-style accounting and “something-for-nothing” financial engineering that set off the 2008 financial meltdown.

Making wishful assumptions about future stock market performance, corporate execs shortchanged pensions, diverting dollars into outsized dividends and stratospheric bonuses for themselves. Many were long gone by the time the bill came due.

The same dynamic drove politicians—hardwired to tell people what they want to hear—to claim that sure, corporations and the rich could have tax cuts while public sector workers continued to receive their pensions and regular raises.

Now that state and local governments are swimming in red ink because of those tax cuts and the Wall Street meltdown, unions are caught flat-footed. Their erstwhile allies, after testing today’s political winds, now line up to ax their pay and pensions.

Rhode Island drew the road map for politicians everywhere two years ago, slashing state and municipal workers’ pensions with a brutal “reform” that forced most workers over to a hybrid plan and froze cost-of-living adjustments.

The brunt fell on retirees like 19-year firefighter Paul St. George, whose $36,000-a-year pension turned into $24,000 overnight. He had to move out of his house into an apartment and find full-time work as a maintenance man, he told the press.

Uncomfortable Arithmetic

Adding insult to injury, the state handed more than $1 billion in pension funds over to hedge fund companies to manage—in exchange for an expected $2.1 billion in fees over 20 years, effectively taken straight out of the pockets of retirees, who would forego $2.3 billion in COLAs over the same period.

No wonder Wall Street has pumped $2 million into the possible gubernatorial campaign of Gina Raimondo, who engineered the Rhode Island scam, as Matt Taibbi recently reported for Rolling Stone.

Even before the 2008 financial crisis and the gaping holes it created in state and local budgets, pensions were an endangered species. In 1980, 40 percent of the workforce had traditional defined-benefit pensions. Today it’s less than half that.

Corporations drove this shift—axing retirement plans altogether when they could get away with it, switching to 401(k) plans where they couldn’t. These programs were legalized in 1978 and were originally designed to supplement traditional pensions. But 401(k)s quickly provided a cheap escape route, costing companies about half as much as traditional pensions. Even more important, 401(k)s shifted risk off companies and onto us.

Traditional pensions were a stab at a collective solution to a universal problem—how to lead a decent life when your working years were through. Pooling retirement savings among workers at a large company, or across an entire industry, smoothed out insecurity for everyone. Now it’s just you and the stock market.

The research shows you’ll end up with far less in your pocket. A 401(k) typically yields 10 to 33 percent as much as a traditional pension. Half of all participants between the ages of 55 and 64 have less than $120,000 in their 401(k)s.

Private Sector Playbook

For union members in the private sector, today’s attacks on public sector pensions have a familiar ring. Corporations spent years gaming the defined-benefit pension system in a similar pattern: First, siphon off pension contributions to pump up profits—as simple as tweaking the company spreadsheet to reflect a rosier forecast of your investment returns.

Then, once the accounting gimmicks are played out, howl about legacy costs, declare bankruptcy, and stick someone else with the bill.

Companies from steel giant LTV to Twinkie-maker Hostess have followed this pattern. And things have gone from bad to worse in the five years since Wall Street’s collapse.

At the end of 2012, private sector defined-benefit plans had only about 75 percent of what they owed participants. Shortfalls this year could swell to as much as $322 billion—up from $47 billion at the end of 2007—according to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

The PBGC, a government agency established in 1975 to backstop private sector pensions, is funded by premiums paid by healthy plans, along with assets recovered from bankrupt companies. But swamped today with failing plans, the agency is operating in the red. Last year the deficit between its income and its obligations swelled to a record $35 billion.

Even before the red ink, the PBGC’s payouts typically amounted to less than half of what retirees were promised by their employers. Republic Steel is an egregious example: workers watched their pensions get cut by up to $1,000 a month in 2002 when the PBGC took over, then get cut again in 2004.

In the second round, some retirees saw their benefits fall as low as $125 a month.

The PBGC’s bulging deficits could trigger even more cuts to payouts, with Washington in no mood for any emergency appropriations.

For workers in multi-employer pension plans like the Teamsters’ ailing Central States Fund, pending federal legislation would permit preemptive cuts even without PBGC involvement (see Stealth Bill Would Allow Cuts to Current Pensions).

One-Two Punch

Though 80 percent of public employees still have traditional pensions, more and more politicians are reading from the private sector playbook. After skipping payments into their pension funds repeatedly during better economic times, when the funds looked flush, now they are pushing for deep cuts.

“The numbers speak for themselves—the pension system as we know it is unsustainable,” Andrew Cuomo insisted after his election as governor of New York.

Cuomo, like politicians across the political spectrum, has pitted public employees and their unions against taxpayers—while the corporations and 1%ers who benefited from decades of tax cuts quietly slip out of the spotlight.

With two-thirds of public sector pensions facing shortfalls—to the tune of $700 billion in 2010—these attacks from politicians are gaining traction.

New York, one of 10 states to push through major changes to pensions last year, added a sixth tier for new hires in its state plan. Other states took similarly severe measures, such as dropping traditional pensions for new employees in favor of defined-contribution plans, increasing age and service requirements for retirement, and jacking up employee contributions. Alabama took the controversial step of terminating its traditional pension plan.

Far from shoring up our faltering retirement system, these measures will only increase its fragmentation, putting each small slice of the population into a different leaky boat.

As unions fight to defend members’ pensions, it’s worth thinking beyond our shrinking share of the workforce to measures that will benefit everyone. For half the country’s workers, Social Security is already all they have. And on the flip side, some or all public employees in 15 states don’t get Social Security, so their pensions are all they have.

What if we took seriously the fate of retirees, and strengthened Social Security so that it could actually pay for most living expenses? Whether your retirement was golden or tinfoil would not depend on the health of your particular employer—a radical proposition, to be sure.

We’re a long way from a universal retirement plan that robust. Cutting Social Security is almost a bipartisan goal now. So the first step is to stop politicians from hacking at Social Security as part of a “grand bargain” on the debt ceiling, Obamacare, future government shutdowns, or anything else.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5878) 12 months ago

Nationwide organization. That is the only difference between 'us' and 'them'.

http://occupywallst.org/forum/the-cooperative-union/

http://occupywallst.org/forum/free-democracy-amendment/

Any organized group can dominate the unorganized masses. That is why organized bankers can lobby for laws to practically do away with credit unions which are unwilling to take their organization to the next level by forming a national cooperative of credit unions. That's why organized private insurance companies can have national health care laws established to enrich themselves while mutual insurance companies ignore any idea of consolidation into a much larger organization capable of keeping coverages less expensive. It's why a political duoply remains organized as the only game in town for dissatisfied voters who refuse to come together beyond political differences to establish political standards by which candidates will be held accountable. And it's why corporations benefit throughout a nation in which voters don't engage in nationwide initiative campaigns at the local and state levels to neutralize corporate exploitation. Corporations are organized nationwide for their own interests. The People aren't. The organization of a Free Democracy party that engages in nationwide campaigns through initiatives and abstains from partisan voting for any candidates who don't conform to a set of political standards could change the entire game. If Occupy Wall Street could spread across the country in a matter of weeks, so could a Free Democracy party. It's simply a matter of the collective will to do so.

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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5878) 11 months ago

The Sierra Club neither has the finances of the corporations nor the involvement in nationwide political campaigns at the local and state levels. Its environmental focus can't garner the political interest of urban social issues. Only a nationwide organized group involved in issues to affect urban society, be it in a negative or positive way, can have an effect upon society at large. The corporations are already organized and self-financed to affect urban society in a negative way. The People have yet to organize themselves to affect urban society in a positive way. One group has the will to protect its interests at the other's expense. The other group still doesn't.

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[-] -1 points by HCHC4 (-28) 12 months ago

A list of things NOT to do may be more appropriate.

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